February 12. 2014 9:59PM

Fatal fires increase awareness of smoke alarms

By DAN SEUFERT Union Leader Correspondent

BRIDGEWATER — In the hours and days since a local couple died of smoke inhalation at their home, at least 15 residents have come to the fire department seeking smoke alarms.

Since the Morrills death, and after a Manchester women died Tuesday in a home without working smoke alarms, fire officials statewide are urging residents to check their smoke alarms' batteries, and are asking people to make sure they have smoke alarms.

In addition, since in both fires there was debris blocking entrances, fire officials are asking residents to be sure they have escape plans for their homes that include keeping exit routes clear of obstacles, both for those potentially trying to escape a fire, and for firefighters entering to help them.

In both fires this week, victims might have been saved by having a few more seconds. Smoke alarms might have alerted the victims in time to get out, and firefighters might have been able to reach the victims more quickly had there been clear passage ways in the homes.

"Ultimately it's all about time," said Gilford Fire Chief Stephen Carrier.

"It's important to have working smoke alarms and to have an escape plan. If a smoke alarm notifies people to get out of a building, that can be huge for the ability of people to survive a fire," Carrier said.

In a fire that was reported at 12:45 a.m. Monday, Paul Morrill, 72, and Jane Morrill, 68, of 657 River Road died after a fire filled their downstairs bedroom with smoke. The couple tried to escape, but were found a few feet from their bed.

On Tuesday, Sarah Robinson, in her early 70s, was found dead in an upstairs bedroom of her home at 83 Bowman St. home in Manchester.

In both cases, entranceways to the homes were cluttered, and there were no working smoke alarms.

Bridgewater Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief M. Tapio Mayo said people trapped by fire have very little time to escape, and must have a clear idea of how they can get out of their homes. Escape plans, and entranceways clear of clutter, are crucial.

"A person trapped in a room filling with smoke is subject to a myriad of toxic gasses," Mayo said.

Firefighters say every home should have working smoke alarms.

The Bridgewater Fire Department was given a few dozen smoke alarms by a manufacturer and is distributing them free, as do many other fire departments, Mayo said People should not count on their fire departments for smoke alarms, though, he said. They can be bought at hardware and department stores. "They're not too expensive," he said.